Sunday 11 October 2009

A Prayer for Rain - Velveteen Rabbi

This post is entirely lifted from here, where you can hear it spoken.
It is rich.
It has resonances reaching back into Judaism,
forward through Jesus at the Pouring Out of the Water in Jerusalem,
through the First outpouring in Acts 2,
through the 1906 Pentecostal outpouring,
the 60s Charismatic outpouring to
the Last Great Outpouring when the full number of the Gentiles has come in. 26And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: "The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. (Romans11) and again in Romans 10:19 First, Moses says, "I will make you envious by those who are not a nation; I will make you angry by a nation that has no understanding.

Millennia ago, the earth was washed in water
connections sparked unimaginable across the water

the life we know begins cradled in water
each human being emerges in a flood of water

from ancient times we've prayed to God for water
not too much, not too little, just enough water

this year the landscape I first knew lacked water
grasslands parched, thirsting for drops of water

this year the hills where I live ran with water
seeping through roofs, swelling doors shut with water

to mark holy times we immerse ourselves in water
washing our old hurts away in water

in the city of gold rooftop tanks collect water
those who have and those who lack fight over water

in the beginning, presence hovered over water
mysterious and unknowable like deep water

the bodies we inhabit are made of water
our veins and tissues stay functional through water

we couldn't stand and offer praise without water
source of all, be kind to us: send water.
On the festival of Shemini Atzeret, in many communities, during the musaf repetition of the amidah (the extra iteration of the standing prayer), a prayer is offered which describes our holy relationship with God through the repeated motif of water. It's called tefilat geshem, "the rain prayer." That link will take you to a brief article about the prayer which also features the words of the prayer in Hebrew and, as a drop-down menu, in English.
From here on out, as we pray the amidah (the standing prayer which is central to our liturgy) daily, we'll replace the one-line request for dew with a one-line request for winds and rain. (At Pesach, we recite tefilat tal, the dew prayer, and thenceforth we daily ask for dew instead of for rain...until Shemini Atzeret.) The year oscillates between these two poles.
Many classical piyyutim (liturgical poems) take a form which looks to me, as a student of poetry, not unlike a ghazal. A ghazal is a Persian/Arabic/Urdu form which I first learned through reading the poetry of Agha Shahid Ali, may his memory be a blessing. (Here's one of his poems, titled simply Ghazal.) Ghazals are written in couplets, and each line ends with a "refrain" word. A classical ghazal features meter, as well as a kind of hidden rhyme, found in the word which precedes the refrain word.
The classical prayer for rain recited on Shemini Atzeret is beautiful poetry, and I don't mean to supplant it -- rather to add to the body of liturgical poetry of which it is a part. In that spirit, I offer this "ghazal" (I'm putting that in quotes because I haven't fully lived up to the constraints of the classical Persian form), a contemporary variation on the prayer for rain spoken today, on Shemini Atzeret. May we all be washed with blessings like falling water.
Comments section on Prayer for Rain

Chris Welch said...
This is so good. So good.I'm a bit nervous of even asking you for permission to copy this in case you are a bit shy as was Franz Kafka. Luckily Max Brod never obeyed his friend and we have his stuff.
Reply October 11, 2009 at 04:56 PM

Rachel Barenblat said in reply to Chris Welch...
Thank you for the kind words, Chris -- I'm so glad you like it!
You are welcome to share this poem as widely as you would like. Please do keep my name and my URL attached to it -- either the URL of this post (, or the URL of my blog more generally ( or my website ( -- so if people enjoy it, they know where to find more of my work. And thanks for wanting to share it; I'm delighted!
Reply October 11, 2009 at 04:58 PM

No comments: